Writing Update No. Whatever

A few years ago I attended a writers’ conference at Sac State. There were editors and agents present, and I got to meet with one of them. I had submitted the first chapter of The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster (you know, the one with the laser cows). She read it and said she really enjoyed it (except for one or two minor flaws) and asked me to send her more. Sadly, that was the only chapter of that uncompleted novel that I felt confident in.

I’ve since lost that agent’s card, phone number, and email address, and I never did send her more. Insert sad face here.

Over the years I’ve attempted several times to rewrite The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, but without any success. But now I’m determined to tackle it and finalize a draft that I can be proud of should I ever encounter that agent again. And I’m determined to have that done by December 31, 2018 (I also plan to have a worthy draft of Padma done by June).


Meanwhile, I had a great deal of fun over the past week or so having our web host install Let’s Encrypt on our server so that I could secure our various websites. Like this one. Look up in the address bar and you’ll see a little padlock icon, and the URL is now prefaced with https instead of plain old http. This is pretty cool.

What’s not cool is all the hacking that happened on my Jennifer’s website. I spent days tracking down rogue JavaScript, PHP, and other stuff, including code that had been inserted into the database itself. Fortunately, that’s all fixed, and a recent scan by Google indicates that the site is, once more, clean and safe and secure. A dozen password changes later, I’m confident that this won’t happen again.

That’s all that’s going on for me right now (aside from the permanent wheezing and cough but that’s a whine for another day). How are you?

Writing Goals for the New Year

I believe in accountability, in goal-setting, and in a proper fusion of the two. To that end, I’m hereby putting out into the world my writing goals for 2018.

  • First: I plan to write six original short stories this year (including the current one, “How the Old Ones Saved Christmas”).
  • Second: I plan to revise six stories that need heavy revision before heading into the wilds. For example, “Burying Uncle Albert” requires a heavy restructuring to rebuild its central theme and a major subplot.
  • Third: I plan to write three non-fiction science articles to publish on my science blog, The Penguin Scientific. That’s an average of one article every four months. Surely in a four-month period I can put together a well-researched science story accessible by humans.
  • Fourth: Finish up the first draft of Padma. Due by June 15.
  • Fifth: Finish outlining another novel. Don’t know which one yet. Possibly due by November 1, depending on whether I participate in National Novel-Writing Month 2018, which isn’t guaranteed at this point.
  • Finally: I have a goal to hit 100 submissions for the year. I had 69 submissions for 2017, none of which ended in a sale. But I have a good feeling about 2018!

That’s it. Those are my writing goals for 2018. What are yours?

Not an Instruction Manual

Goddammit, Trump, 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual.

Neither was Brave New World.

But just as people mistake Machiavelli’s The Prince as an instruction manual instead of the social satire that it was intended as, there are certain people within the government who just want our nation to descend into an ideologically-driven dark age.

Diversity. Entitlement. Evidence-based. Fetus. Science-based. Transgender. Vulnerable. These are the words that the Center for Disease Control is no longer allowed to use when creating budget documents. The CDC is charged with keeping the citizens of the United States healthy. Here is their mission statement:

CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.

The CDC has already been hobbled by the powers-that-be (the NRA, for example) in not being allowed to perform studies regarding guns and the danger they pose in the US. This further hampering does nothing to further the CDC’s mission, and will harm the vulnerable members of our society.

Sigh.

There are a couple of reasons I don’t often post about politics in my blog or in social media. First, most of the people who follow me already know where I stand. Second, most of the people I follow feel the same way. And third, I’m unlikely to change any minds anyway. Certainly, this blog post won’t make it to the administration officials who offered this ludicrous policy, and even if it did, they wouldn’t be moved by it. “Another snowflake liberal complaining about the lawfully-elected President blah blah blah,” they chortle as they make their way to the bank.

It’s frustrating how powerless I feel in the face of these forces.

That’s not to say I’ve done nothing. I’ve written emails. I’ve faxed. I’ve texted. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve made phone calls to my senators and to my Congressional representative, all of whom, fortunately, feel the same as I do.

I can only hope that American citizens will come back to their senses and restore sanity to our government and society in 2018. If that doesn’t happen… Well, I don’t know. I shudder to think what damage Trump and his sycophants will do to the nation before 2020. We’re already going to spend decades fixing the damage they’ve already done. And I fear that worse is yet to come.

We have always been at war with Eastasia, I suppose.


‘Tis the season for Holidailies, where you may find more cheerful blogs.

The 300(+)

Sigh.

Despite walking at least 3,000 steps per day (far short of my goal of 5,000, granted), and despite writing down everything I’ve eaten, and sticking within my Weight Watchers Points range, I somehow managed to gain three pounds since I posted my entry last week. That puts me back over three hundred pounds, which sucks.

Ah well. Much like writing, when I have a setback, I just need to go ahead and start again where I left off. Or, rather, since I get tired of thinking “I have to start again”, I need to continue. Not start over. Continue.

In other news, today a co-worker of mine gave me a copy of How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb. It’s one of many self-help or self-enrichment books that I bought back in the heady days of the mid to late 90s, but at some point I had lost my copy, and recently I’ve been thinking about it. Actually, Leonardo da Vinci has been on my mind quite a bit. So much so that I actually purchased the audiobook of Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man. I’ve been listening to it while driving or walking, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s fascinating to learn about da Vinci’s life and the times he lived in, as well as his creativity and artistic output. I certainly don’t think I’m going to become a great Renaissance man of da Vinci’s stature, but maybe I’ll be able to expand my brain just a little bit. I’ll keep you all posted on my progress, if you so desire. Or not. Heck, I’ll do it anyway, in the form of the occasional blog post.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today.

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The high speed romancealogical database!

(The title is a reference to a Futurama episode. So there.)

A few years ago, I created this. It’s an online SyFy original movie generator. It’s eleven years old, but still relevant, since those movies are still pretty awful. Of course, they don’t have to be good; they only have to make back more in advertising revenue than their budgets, which often run into the tens of dollars. I should probably update the code to make it more interactive, I suppose, but I think it stands well as it is.

Now, last night Jennifer and I watched a Netflix original movie called A Christmas Prince. It was… an experience. Well, okay, it was stupid. It was a bad film. Just as a bad SyFy film can be full of tropes and cliches, so can a bad romance. And this one ticked all the boxes: the plucky heroine who doesn’t know how beautiful she is; the stupidly handsome reluctant prince; the mischievous young girl. Etc. The dialogue was awful. With one exception (the editor), the acting wasn’t horrible, because Rose McIver (who also plays Olivia in iZombie) is pretty good. But on the whole, this is a bad movie.

So Jennifer suggested, “Why don’t you create an online romance film plot generator? Just like your SyFy movie generator?” This strikes me as a pretty good idea, except that I’d have to watch a lot of these bad romance films and take notes just to make sure I know what tropes and cliches are abused in these films, and I am not willing to do that. I suspect I’d need an insulin shot afterwards.

So I turn to you, my plucky readers. What elements should I include in my online romance plot generator? What types of characters? Situations? Plots? Give ’em to me. So I don’t have to watch them myself.


Note: I don’t mean to devalue the romance genre as a whole. I know that there are good quality romance novels and movies out there. I just haven’t read them or seen them, and that’s only because I don’t seek them out because it’s not a genre I’m particularly interested in. But just as my SyFy movie generator is not meant to devalue science fiction as a whole, so my romance movie generator won’t either.

Hm, now I’m thinking I ought to create a horror movie generator as well.


Ho ho holidailies!

And This Time, I Mean It!

Here I am, staring the half century mark in the face. Which of us will blink first?

Anyway, I’m not actually freaking out about turning fifty years old. I didn’t freak out when I turned thirty, nor when I turned forty. Why should fifty be any different? I do recognize that I’m very fortunate that my body hasn’t started to seriously break down yet, though. I’m heavy enough right now that I could be suffering from severe joint issues, or severe back issues. I don’t. I could also be suffering from heart problems (reports of people having their first heart attack in their 40s are depressingly common), or diabetes, or a multitude of other issues.

Which isn’t to say that I am in very good health. I am overweight, I have asthma, hypertension, and gout. They’re all under control, but I’d love for them to go away without the need for medications; I’d also like to forestall all the other potential issues for as long as possible. I really don’t want to, say, have to replace a knee at a relatively young age.

So, to that end, I’m re-committing myself to getting healthier. I’ve started walking again: 5,000 steps a day for now, with a goal of increasing that to 10,000 at some point. Some day I may even take up running. Unlikely, though, since even at the best of times I’m an awkward runner. The main goal here is not to lose weight, especially since exercise isn’t really a factor in weight loss; rather, I just want to improve my stamina and my Constitution stat.

The other thing I’m planning on doing is just eating better. I signed up for Weight Watchers some time ago, but until recently I haven’t taken it very seriously. They’ve just rekejiggered their plan entirely, and it looks pretty good, though I’ll have to make some changes in how I’ve been approaching it.

Here’s hoping this all sticks this time. There are plenty of things I’d like to be doing — such as snorkeling or SCUBA diving or simply hiking/backpacking — that are just not feasible right now.

None of this is new. I’ve posted about this sort of thing many times. But with this new milestone birthday coming up, I’d like to be able to stick to all of this, without falling to the wayside within a week or so. Will you all help keep me on point?


Hey! Ho! It’s time for Holidailies! HO HO HO!

Adventure Time!

Last Saturday, Sherman got sick. After a normal morning of running around, picking fights with Ingrid, and generally getting into trouble, he started crying, then threw up. Then we noticed that he was straining and crying when he was in the litterbox. Jennifer told me, “Something’s wrong with Sherman,” and we decided that she would take him to the emergency vet while I went down to my parents’ house to celebrate my mom’s birthday.

The vet couldn’t find anything wrong with Sherman, even though it was obvious he was in a lot of pain. Cats are not good at telling us humans exactly what’s wrong with them or where, exactly, the pain is, so Sherman was not forthcoming. Finally, the vet sent Jennifer home with some pain meds and instructions to feed Sherman a bland diet and keep him isolated for a few days.

Sherman’s a pretty rambunctious little cat, so being holed up in the library for a few days sounded risky. Would he go stir-crazy and start ripping apart all the books? Cry nonstop, keeping us awake at night and triggering our guilt feelings?

Fortunately he did not do any of those things. He was quiet the whole time. We went in to visit and play with him several times a day, and we fed him baby food for the first couple of days. Tuesday we reintroduced him to canned cat food, which he wolfed down, having gotten bored of the baby food, and yesterday we let him have some kibble, which was OH MY GOD THE BEST THING!

Today we let him out of the library. I was worried that the first thing he’d do was go charging at Ingrid but nope. He took a few tentative steps through the library door, then wandered around upstairs for a bit.

But the real proof that he’s better came this morning. Usually when we open the front door we have to make sure Sherman’s nowhere near since he has a documented history of trying to run outside. This morning, I didn’t see him when I opened the front door, so I figured it was safe to open the door. But the moment I did, Sherman charged out of nowhere and shot through the door.

I shouted after him, of course, but that never does any good with a cat. Usually when he goes outside he gets distracted by something — a neighborhood cat, a stranger jogging by, or (once) the gravel in the neighbor’s yard, which, for some reason, really confused him.

But nope. Today Sherman was intent on having an Adventure. I chased him for half an hour, around the block and around several houses. I thought I had him for sure when he ran into a shed in someone’s back yard, but he crouched low and ran on his belly when I tried to grab him.

Fortunately, he ran under someone’s truck, and that’s when he stopped. For some reason, cars frighten him, even if he does invariably run underneath them when he gets outside. He sat, hunkered down and crying, like he always does, and I managed to grab him by the tail and pull him out. I know you’re not supposed to grab cats by the tail, but I figured in this case any handle would do.

I carried the squirming and fussing cat home (did I mention that we call him “Squirmin’ Sherman”?) and tossed him atop the cat tree in the living room, where he immediately settled in and started bathing himself. Stupid cat.

So I was a bit late to work, and I only now just realized that I was going to take the trash can to the curb, but completely forgot because of the stupid cat.

At least he’s feeling better now.


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On Quitting and When It’s Good for the Soul

Last Saturday night, with just under a week of November left, I decided to quit NaNoWriMo this year. This means that I won’t be finishing up And the Devil Will Drag You Under, and that for the first time in sixteen years of participating, I won’t “win” NaNoWriMo (meaning, I won’t reach that 50,000 word goal).

This wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I did it after much soul searching and pondering. After all, after participating for sixteen years, it feels like a matter of honor to cross the finish line and reach that word count goal. I’d like to see that little purple bar in my profile on the NaNoWriMo website, but it’s not going to happen this year. And as a Municipal Liaison, it sort of behooves me to do my best to participate for the entire month, and quitting it feels like a dereliction of duty.

So why would I do such a thing?

Mainly, I just wasn’t into the novel. While I think that And the Devil Will Drag You Under has some interesting elements to it, on the whole I wasn’t enjoying it. Working on it had become a chore, and no fun at all; and by Saturday, when the word count goal was supposedly 41,675, I had only reached 13,962. And every moment that I was working on Devil, I was actually fantasizing about other works in progress that I want to work on. Padma, for example. And the five short stories that I’m working on to get ready to market. But no, I couldn’t work on those while NaNoWriMo was going on, which meant that I was beginning to resent Devil, and NaNoWriMo itself. I didn’t want to go into that psychic space. I’m not burned out on NaNoWriMo, but I could feel myself getting there. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get all the way there.

So over the past sixteen years, I’ve written fourteen novels for NaNoWriMo (years 2012 and 2013 were two parts of the same novel). In my opinion, that’s nothing to sneeze at or scoff. Some of them are good and deserve further work and development. Some of them are bad and don’t. Padma (2016) is a good one. #M For Murder (2015) probably isn’t. Fred Again (2005) has a lot of potential, but also needs a lot of work. And while Code Monkey (2009) was a lot of fun to write, its issues are daunting.

So the plan now is to choose two novels out of those fourteen, and develop them to a point where I feel really good about them. I want two novels that I can pitch to editors and agents at WorldCon next August.

I’m not sure what all this means for NaNoWriMo 2018, honestly. Will I participate again? Am I burned out on the whole thing after all? It’s certainly possible (likely, in fact) that when November 2018 rolls around I’ll have another idea that I want to develop, and I’ll sign up again. But it’s also possible that I won’t. Details are unclear.

But whether or not I choose to go forward with NaNoWriMo in the future, a few things are clear: First, I have a few novels with potential that I can develop further. Second, I’ve learned a lot about writing and the writing process (especially my own). And third, I’ve made a lot of great friends, even if I only see some of them in November.

So yeah. Quitting NaNoWriMo was a good idea this year. It’s good for my writing. It’s good for my soul.

And to all those who are continuing forward: Good luck!

Fear of Distraction

It’s midway through National Novel Writing Month, and things aren’t looking good for me this year. At this point, one should be at about 25,000 words… and I’m at, oh, 7,000 or so. This may be the year that I don’t win this thing. I’m sort of upset about that, because it breaks my winning streak of having won every year that I’ve participated (which is every year since 2001, though I skipped 2002 — or did you know that already?).

So I figure it’s time to dust off the blog and get to pondering things. Like why I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month for fourteen consecutive years, but don’t really have anything that I would consider ready to show off for publication. I’m pretty sure it’s not a fear of failure that’s holding me back, or the complementary fear of success. I can pursue a short story to (near) completion, but novels are another thing.

I’m pretty sure that what holds me back is a fear of distraction.

By which I mean that I have a hard time committing to a novel of mine if I fear that something else better might come along and hey, I can’t work on it because I’m already stuck working on this thing. And therefore I’m afraid of committing to a novel. And the irony is palpable, because if I had been able to commit to, say, The Outer Darkness (in 2004), I may have finished that novel completely, and gotten others completed as well. But no, I had to dither and go through angst and worry that if I focused on that one, then other brilliant ideas would go unwritten.

And what if I finish a novel, get it all the way done, and find it was a waste of time? What if I find, at that point, that I should have written something else?

I suspect these are questions that just about every writer faces. But when does that fear of distraction/wasted time get to the point that it’s pathological, and interferes with your ability to get anything done?

I don’t know.

Suggestions, anyone?

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